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In the last six months I’ve gotten speaking engagements, influential new contacts and a mountain of spot-on advice, all from a free website. LinkedIn.com.

Well, LinkedIn’s Groups to be specific.

Groups are LinkedIn’s feature that lets members who share an interest or profession to gather online, have discussions and share information with each other. As a member, you can join as many as 50 groups.

Why would you want to join groups on LinkedIn? That’s where the gold is, my friends. By being active in groups, you can:

  • Build your brand
  • Share your expertise
  • Build a tribe

Join a group. Or a dozen.

You can search for groups to join using a keyword, company name or school. LinkedIn will also suggest groups for you, based on your profession, location and popular groups shared by your connections.

  • Take note: you may have to try a few groups out before you find those that are most valuable to you. Test drive it.  Join a group and visit 2-3 times a week for a few weeks. Check out the discussions, add comments of your own, and ‘like’ or share discussions with your connections.
  • After you’ve tested the waters for a few weeks, don’t be afraid to leave the group if it’s not a smart use of your time. (This time-value measure is also the reason that you can’t really be active in 50 groups. You’ll have to choose a few and focus your efforts.)
  • Look for groups that have more than a few hundred members, but not more than a few thousand. You want activity and visibility.

Better yet, gather your tribe in your own LinkedIn group.

Anyone can start a group on LinkedIn. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone should. Strong groups require constant care and feeding or they become virtual ghost towns.

The most successful groups are organized around an industry, a niche or a shared interest, not your company. LinkedIn guru Lewis Howes started several LinkedIn groups based on:

  • Geography – LinkedWorking Cleveland, LinkedWorking Columbus, LinkedWorking St. Louis
  • Shared interest – SportsNetworker, Sports, Marketing & Media Business.

There are more than 500 LinkedIn groups for authors, but successful entrepreneur and bestselling author Jonathan Fields created the Tribal Author: Book Marketing & Author Enterprise-Building group to serve what he saw as an unmet need. A little more than a year later, the group has more than 400 members, boasting names that have graced many a New York Times bestseller list.

Exercise your power.

As a group manager, you have more visibility (and responsibility) than other group members. You can promote discussions by tagging them as “Manager’s Choice.” It’s also your job to seed the group’s interaction by starting discussions. Ask an insightful question, share an article, solicit opinions on industry announcements or conduct a poll.

The biggest complaint against LinkedIn’s groups is the sheer number that are well, worthless. Too many are  packed with spammers, sleazy offers and self promoters. The best strategy for a group that adds value rather than clogs inboxes is to have clear rules of conduct for the members and to enforce them.

One of my favorite LinkedIn groups is Marketing Over Coffee. Started by marketers Christopher S. Penn and John Wall as a discussion group for fans of their weekly podcast of the same name, MOC is successful for two reasons:

1. The members, who are smart, generous and helpful.  You can find advice or resources aplenty here.

2. The hypervigilant use of what manager Penn calls “the BanHammer.” With the members themselves policing group behavior, it keeps the discussions sparkling clean.

Image of Marketing Over Coffee LinkedIn Group Manager's Announcement

Your fame boosting assignment:

This week, pick three LinkedIn groups to join. (Or visit some that you’ve been neglecting.) Be active! Pop into the group 2 or 3 times during the week and join discussions. Give it a few weeks of honest effort, then, if it’s not right for you, move on.

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